William J. Brady

William J. Brady (August 16, 1829 – April 1, 1878) was an American soldier, politician, and law enforcement officer who served as the sheriff of Lincoln County during the Lincoln County Wars in New Mexico, United States. He was murdered in an ambush, aged 48, by the Lincoln County Regulators and Billy the Kid.

William J. Brady
Brady in 1872, Territorial Legislature photograph
Born(1829-08-16)August 16, 1829
DiedApril 1, 1878(1878-04-01) (aged 48)
Cause of deathGunshot wound
OccupationLawman, soldier, politician
Years active1851–1878
Known forLincoln County War

Early lifeEdit

William J. Brady was born in the parish of Urney and Annagelliffe just north of the town of Cavan, County Cavan, on August 16, 1829. He was baptized into the Catholic Church in Ireland that same day.[1]

Brady's parents, John Brady and Catherine Darby, were Irish Catholic tenant farmers, and rented a seven-acre potato farm from a local Anglo-Irish landlord. William was the firstborn of an eventual eight children. He attended the newly opened National school and graduated in 1844. As the eldest son, William was trained to take over the family's rented plot of land.[2]

After the death of his father in 1846, he took over as head of the family and worked very hard to keep his mother and siblings alive during the Great Famine. Brady and his widowed mother attended the Cavan Tenant-Rights Meeting in July 1850, and both signed a petition demanding that the House of Commons change the laws regarding tenant farming in Ireland. In the summer of 1851, Brady left Ireland for the United States.[3]

Military serviceEdit

Frontier SoldierEdit

Soon after his arrival in New York in July 1851, Brady enlisted in the U.S. Army. Military records reveal Brady to have been five feet eight inches tall, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion. He gave his occupation as a farmer from Cavan, Ireland. Brady was assigned to Company F, First Regiment Mounted Rifles, under the overall command of Colonel William Wing Loring. He spent the next five years stationed at Fort McIntosh, near San Antonio, Texas, where he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Upon his reenlistment in 1856, Brady's commanding officer, Captain Andrew Porter, praised him as, "A faithful and excellent soldier and honest and sober man." Sgt. Brady was transferred to Fort Craig, New Mexico, where he served in combat against both the Apache and the Navajo.[4]

In 1859, Sgt. Brady was assigned to the garrison at Fort Union, which was vulnerable to attacks by the Comanche and Kiowa. Upon arrival there, however, Brady led several patrols that helped map the area, but did not encounter either tribe or experience combat.[5]

In January 1861, as the outbreak of the American Civil War grew increasingly imminent, Colonel Andrew Porter, Sgt. Brady, and the majority of the Fort Union garrison were transferred to Fort Craig, in order to defend New Mexico Territory from invasion by Texas-based units of the Confederate Army.[6]

Brady's term of enlistment expired and he was honorably discharged at Fort Craig on March 2, 1861. In Brady's file, Colonel Porter wrote, "Excellent: a brave man and an honest and gallant soldier. He has enjoyed this character during two enlistments in my company."[7]

Civil WarEdit

Although Brady had repeatedly offered to serve as a commissioned officer for the Union Army in the East, Brady was informed that the Southwest needed defending, too. For this reason, Brady enrolled in the 2nd New Mexico Infantry Regiment at Albuquerque on August 19, 1861. He was later promoted to 1st Lieutenant by Governor Henry Connelly under General Orders from the War Department. After three weeks of recruiting and training, Brady and his regiment were assigned to garrison and defend Fort Craig against potential Confederate attack.[8]

He fought against the Confederate Army at the Battle of Glorieta Pass and stayed with his unit when it was incorporated into the 1st Regiment New Mexico Volunteer Cavalry.[citation needed]

After the Confederate troops left New Mexico, he was assigned as a recruiting officer in Polvadera, New Mexico.[9]

In 1862, he married María Bonifacia Chávez, a Mexican-American widow from Corrales. María Bonifacia Chávez claimed military pension widow's benefits but no evidence survives of their actual marriage.[10] However at the time of the alleged marriage New Mexico did not yet have mandatory marriage registration, which law went into effect the following year. NM Laws 1862–63, pg. 64. However, New Mexico did not recognize common law marriage.[11]

The following year Brady was assigned as the acting commander at Fort Stanton, and in 1864 was confirmed as commandant there. He led several successful campaigns against the Navajo and Apaches. He served as commandant at several other New Mexico forts until his discharge in October 1866 at the brevet rank of Major.[12]

Lincoln, New MexicoEdit

Brady and his wife and children settled on a ranch on the Río Bonito, four miles east of Lincoln, New Mexico. He was first elected Sheriff of Lincoln County on September 6, 1869, and took office in January 1870.

In 1871, Brady was elected as the first representative from Lincoln County to sit in the Territorial Legislature.[13] He lost his seat in the next election. In 1876 he was elected again as sheriff.[14]


Although Lincoln sheriffs had tried for eight years to get money from the county for a jail, Brady finally got funds ($3,000)[15] to build an underground holding area in 1877.

Prior to that, the sheriff used the military jail at Fort Stanton. The new jail was twenty feet wide by thirty feet long, and ten feet deep. It was lined with rough logs and divided into two cells with a ladder and a trap door for access.[16] Light, when available, was by candles.[17]

Conditions were so bad and escapes so common that the county anted up for a real jail in 1880. One of the causes in the lack of confidence in Sheriff Brady was the escape in November 1877 of Jesse Evans and his gang.[17]

Lincoln County WarEdit

Brady sided with the Murphy-Dolan faction in the Lincoln County War. Lawrence Murphy owned the mercantile (the dry goods store) and bank in Lincoln, and Sheriff Brady owed him money. This put him up against John Tunstall, Alexander McSween, Billy the Kid, and the Regulators.

In the Spring of 1877, Brady was beaten up by two bravados, believed to be John Tunstall’s cowboys, in the middle of the main street of Lincoln. But their identity was never confirmed. People speculated that they worked for Tunstall.[18]

On April 1, 1878, Regulators Jim French, Frank McNab, John Middleton, Fred Waite, Henry Newton Brown and Billy the Kid ambushed Brady and four of his deputies on the main street of Lincoln as reprisal for Tunstall's murder. They fired on the five men from behind an adobe wall. Brady, aged 48, died of at least a dozen gunshot wounds.[19] Deputy George W. Hindman was hit twice, fatally.[20]

Once the shooting stopped, Billy the Kid and Jim French broke cover and dashed to Brady's corpse, either to get his arrest warrant for McSween or to retrieve Billy's rifle which Brady had kept. A surviving deputy, Billy Matthews, wounded both men with a rifle bullet that passed through each of their legs. They still managed to escape.[citation needed]

Brady was first replaced by John Copeland as sheriff. Copeland refused to take sides in the conflict. Dolan used his influence to have him replaced by George Peppin.[citation needed]

It was for the murder of Brady that Billy the Kid was convicted by a territorial court in April 1881, and sentenced to death, a conviction that led to his famous escape from the Lincoln County jail and his subsequent killing by Sheriff Pat Garrett.[21]

Cultural depictionsEdit

Brady was portrayed by Bruce Cabot in the film Chisum (1970).

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Donald R. Lavash (1986), William J. Brady: Tragic Hero of the Lincoln County War, pages 15-16.
  2. ^ Lavash 1986, pp. 15–17.
  3. ^ Lavash 1986, p. 17-19.
  4. ^ Lavash 1986, pp. 20–21.
  5. ^ Donald R. Lavash (1986), William J. Brady: Tragic Hero of the Lincoln County War, pages 21-22.
  6. ^ Donald R. Lavash (1986), William J. Brady: Tragic Hero of the Lincoln County War, page 22.
  7. ^ Donald R. Lavash (1986), William J. Brady: Tragic Hero of the Lincoln County War, page 22.
  8. ^ Donald R. Lavash (1986), William J. Brady: Tragic Hero of the Lincoln County War, pages 22-23.
  9. ^ Lavash 1986, p. 23.
  10. ^ Lavash 1986, p. 29.
  11. ^ In re: Gabaldon's Estate, 1934-NMSC-053, 38 N.M. 392, 34 P.2d 672 (New Mexico Supreme Court, 1934).
  12. ^ Lavash 1986, p. 28.
  13. ^ Lavash 1986, pp. 34–36.
  14. ^ Lavash 1986, p. 52.
  15. ^ Fulton, Maurice G. (1968) History of the Lincoln County War University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, p. 89; ISBN 0-8165-0052-5
  16. ^ Ball 1992, pp. 109–110.
  17. ^ a b Ball 1992, p. 110.
  18. ^ Ball 1992, p. 200.
  19. ^ The Officer Down Memorial Page Remembers ... Sheriff William Brady, odmp.org; accessed April 11, 2020.
  20. ^ The Officer Down Memorial Page Remembers ... Deputy Sheriff George Hindman, odmp.org; accessed April 11, 2020.
  21. ^ Utley, Robert M., Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life, chapters 15–17. ISBN 0-8032-9558-8


Police appointments
Preceded by Sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico
Succeeded by
Preceded by Sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico
Succeeded by